Restoring mangrove forests to preserve ecosystems, mitigate climate change

ALTHOUGH they make up less than one per cent of all tropical forests worldwide, mangroves play a critical role in mitigating climate change, while also benefiting a wide range of species and populations.

Mangrove forests are among the most complex ecosystems on the planet, growing in conditions that would quickly kill ordinary plants. They are found in tidal areas in tropical and subtropical regions that are frequently covered in salt water. Mangrove forests, which are in serious decline, cover approximately 15.2 million hectares of tropical coast across Africa, Australia, Asia and America.

Available information indicates that, Tanzania has 48.1 million hectares of forested land, with the mangrove forest ecosystem accounting for 158,000 ha.

The importance of mangrove forests

Despite their small area coverage, mangrove forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including coastal protection, breeding sites for various types of fish, pollutant biofiltration, habitat for birdlife and wildlife, and a high potential for carbon sequestration, which contributes to climate change mitigation, as well as opportunities for beekeeping and ecotourism ventures.

Any cause of mangrove degradation or decline has serious consequences for both marine resources and the livelihoods of adjacent mangrove-dependent communities.

The mangrove wetland along Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline has been gradually destroyed by various human activities, including settlement, salt production and cattle grazing. It has also been illegally harvested for fuel and timber.

Mangrove forest reserves can be found in four of Dar es Salaam’s five districts: Kinondoni, Ilala, Temeke, and Kigamboni, with Kigamboni having the most, totaling 1,638 ha spread across Mji-Mwema (80 ha), Ras Bamba and Ras Dege (245 ha), Yaleyale Puna (476 ha), Mbezi estuary (567 ha), and Shungu Bweni estuary (270 ha).

The Kigamboni District forest office identified 12 hectares of degraded mangrove forests as a result of illegal mangrove tree cutting for charcoal production, but the situation had not been resolved sustainably due to limited restoration funding.

Restoring mangrove forests

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania, are currently promoting adoption of ecosystem-based practices and pesticide risk management in agriculture through the implementation of the “Capacity Building Related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements in the African, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) Countries – Phase III (ACP MEAs 3) project,” which is funded by the European Union (EU).

The project is being implemented in six districts in Tanzania including Kigamboni (Dar es Salaam), Kilosa (Morogoro), Kilolo (Iringa), Mbarali (Mbeya), Same (Kilimanjaro), and Karatu (Arusha), with the aim of promoting measures that support producers to transition to more sustainable, resilient, and productive production systems, as well as to make innovative solutions, adaptive-management training, and financial and non-financial incentives more accessible to them.

Best ecosystem-based practices are being scaled up to provide multiple global environmental and socioeconomic benefits, including improved food security and poverty reduction in communities. At the field level, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) have been established to encourage the adoption of ecosystem-based agricultural practices that conserve agrobiodiversity, whereby 722 small-scale farmers have benefited from ongoing interventions in those districts.

A mangrove nursery is being established in the Kigamboni district specifically to promote the restoration of the degraded mangrove ecosystem along the Indian Ocean, not only to combat climate change, but also to preserve fishing sites and breeding grounds for fish.

FAO supported restoration of 2ha through planting of 20,000 mangrove seedlings. The regeneration of the degraded area where mangrove trees were planted is currently performing well, with the planted mangrove trees thriving. In addition, FAO supported the establishment of a mangrove nursery with 36,000 seedlings in the Kingamboni district which is expected to cover an additional 3ha of the degraded mangrove land.

FAO is further supporting the establishment of tree nurseries in Karatu, Kilosa, Same, Kilolo and Mbarali districts to promote agroforestry practices among farming communities, allowing for the diversification of farm activities and better use of environmental resources.

Despite our collective efforts to address the urgent need of mangrove restoration, additional resources are needed to scale up the success in other locations. I am confident that if we all work together to address the challenges, the Indian Ocean mangrove ecosystem will be restored along Tanzania coastline in the coming years.

Community Structures for safeguarding mangrove restoration efforts

The Government of Tanzania established a forest policy in 1998, as well as a new forest policy implementation strategy for 2021-2031. The two policies enabled the legal formulation of Village Natural Resources Committees, which are responsible for protecting all restored mangroves within village boundaries using enacted village bylaws, as well as collaboration with Central government agencies responsible for protecting the restored sites under Forest Act No.14 Sections 26 and 84.

The author, Mr Diomedes Kalisa, is the MEAs 3 Project Coordinator in Tanzania

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